Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cafe Lago Buffet at the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas

So you thought I was through with all the Vegas posts, didn't you? I just never got around to working on this post, mainly because this buffet itself was so disappointing. When we arrived at the Cafe Lago inside of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, we saw how empty the place was. Not a great sign. The only reason we ate here was because we moved our rooms over to this hotel after staying at the Bellagio for a few nights, and it was too easy to just go downstairs and find the buffet.

The room itself was beautifully decorated.

The buffet itself was tiny, and the selection was small. Of course the crab legs. the cocktail shrimps, and the prime rib were all there, but there was not much else to offer.

I initially thought that there were oyster shooters available when I saw those small glasses, but one had just cocktail sauce, and the other just olives. Disappointing.

There was a soup station that claimed that wonton soup was available. On a cold night, that sounded good, and I tried a bowl. Beneath those huge lids were the soups, and you could add in mushrooms and various other toppings. But alas, the wontons were no where to be found. So I asked the server where they were, and she said that that was it. What?? Then why do you label it as wonton soup? We got into a very good discussion with our waitress, a nice Vietnamese lady, who basically told us that no one ever likes the soup. She pointed us into the direction of the buffet at Wynn, very honest of her, and she kindly mixed up some free Mimosas for us without asking. The Mimosas are usually extra. We felt like we've know her all our lives.

The pastry bar was just ok. Nothing really stood out here.

There were some good things about the buffet. There was an everflowing chocolate fondue fountain. Dark chocolate and white chocolate, with lots and lots of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and other fruits for dipping. I didn't care too much for the chocolate itself; I just went for those blueberries and blackberries because if I ate 10 pounds or so of those, I could get my money's worth. And I think I just about did that.

One other thing I liked about Cafe Lago was this large selection of these mini-parfaits. In particular, there was a guava parfait that was truly special, and the others were good too. There were some jello shots that were quite good. And they had real ice cream, not soft serve.

So what Cafe Lago lacked in their meats, they try to make up for it in fruits, ice creams, and parfaits. I don't think that's enough to warrant a voluntary return visit, as there are much better buffets out there in Vegas, such as the one at the Bellagio and Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel.

Cafe Lago is located at the Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino at 3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV (702) 731-7928

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Garden Cafe in Alhambra

When my cousin from Denmark and her friend came to visit last month, we found out that they were not very used to eating a lot of things that SoCal Asians are used to eating. So one night for dinner, we decided to take them to the Sunday Cafe on Atlantic Blvd. in Alhambra only to find it closed. Hurriedly, we then drove over to the Garden Cafe instead because we knew at least there would be some foods they would be able to eat. It was a rainy night and the place was emptier than I remember on other visits.

Dinner started out with some creamy soup, which we requested since our visiting Danes don't like tomatoes. Tasted fine except it seems the salt was not incorporated into the soup properly. The creaminess was excellent, though.

The avocado milkshake was good and smooth. Can't really mess that up. Baby R sucked this up.

The rice porridge with fish and chicken was smooth and very good, but they could have cut up the chicken into smaller pieces.

My brother told me that his green tea with boba was very delicious. Cream and sugar were provided.

The seafood chow fun was bland and was pretty greasy.

The sizzling seafood udon was again greasy and bland, and the noodles a little doughy tasting.

The Baked Sole Fillet in Spinach Sauce was nice and creamy, except the sauce wasn't really a sauce. It was more like a bed of chopped spinach added to the bottom of the dish.

The meat dishes really surprised me. The deep fried spicy pork was delicious, a tad salty but perfectly tasty and fried. It wasn't really spicy at all though, since the kids could even eat them.

The combination grilled meat plate was also very good. The chicken, pork, and beef were very tender, and although the lamb was just a tad tough, all the meats were delicious.

We also had a curry dish that was kind of strange. It had a thick consistency to it, and I felt as if the whole dish didn't meld together. And it needed some lemon or spice or something to add some life to it.

I think Garden Cafe had its hit and misses. But as I've said before, I normally don't come to these Hong Kong style cafes like this one or Boston Kitchen or Maxim Cafe for the food. It's more to socialize or simply because it's open late.

Garden Cafe is located at 228 W. Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, CA (626) 289-1833

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce for Dipping)

Nuoc mam, nuoc cham, nuoc mam cham. What's what? In our family and in most Vietnamese families we know, the term nuoc mam refers to both the bottled fish (anchovies) sauce used for seasoning and the mixture that sees that bottled fish sauce mixed with water, sugar, and citrus to create a concoction that we use to either dip a vast variety of Vietnamese rolls in or to pour over certain Vietnamese foods, such as with com tam (broken rice). But in general, this dipping sauce is also referred to as nuoc cham or nuoc mam cham. Cham means dip.

My mother, and grandmother, for that matter, makes her nuoc mam a little differently than the norm. The nuoc mam I now inherit from her and will someday pass on to my children is a bit sweeter, as it uses oranges in addition to lemons, and includes coconut juice (coconut water). Using coconut juice may seem unusual, but a cousin of mine uses coconut soda. So yes, there are many ways of making nuoc mam.

Just a note, for the kids and the wimps, you can leave out the chili peppers and the chili paste, but it just won't be as good! The chili peppers are better minced, but when in a time crunch, you can can just chop them. My mother actually doesn't use the chili peppers. She just adds in the chili paste.

8 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups coconut juice (from 1 coconut)
juice from 2 1/4 oranges
juice from 2 medium lemons
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons chili paste (optional)
4 red chili peppers, minced (optional)

This makes one quart of the nuoc mam.

Start by putting the garlic and sugar into a large bowl.

Add in the liquids (coconut juice, water, orange juice, and lemon juice).

The fish sauce we use in our family is the Viet Huong Three Crabs brand. You can see the bottle in the above photo.

Let me just take a moment to say something about my mom. Whenever she makes a dish and I ask her for the measurements of say...sugar, she'd answer me like this: "What do you mean, if you make a lot, you use a lot of sugar, and if you want to make a little, you use less sugar." I know, Mom, but there's this word called proportion. So for every dish I learned from her, I have memorized the ingredients but have never really measured how much, and she's never measured how much. And now that I've started measuring for this blog, I want to be dead on, so that's as dead on as you get up there. Of course, you can adjust the sugar and fish sauce and lemon juice to your liking. Making nuoc mam is easy. It's just about proportions.

Just one more tidbit. I was pleasantly surprised while reading EatTravelEat's blog to learn that I was chosen to receive the Proximity award to honor the friendships between bloggers.

The actual text of the award reads:

“This blog invests and believes the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.”

And so I pass on the love. The lucky eight people who I'm passing this award onto are:
Tastes of Home, The Eaten Path, mother may I?, Big Boys Oven, A Fat Cat Who Created a Vegetarian, Tangled Noodle, Shizuoka Gourmet, and Eat Life. Thank you for all for supporting and reading my humble blog.